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The Unlikely Story of How the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra Came Back to Life

Five years after declaring bankruptcy, the newly renamed Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra is not only on budget, it’s traveling to perform on the Neighbor Islands again, hosting internationally renowned guest musicians and attracting new audiences. What happened?


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As a musician, Jang believes the symphony still has a ways to go before its quality is where he wants it to be, but he appreciates the support from the board and the direction of artistic adviser JoAnn Falletta. He compares the symphony to a professional sports team: “If all of a sudden you don’t play at all, you have to get back in shape. The regimen it takes to be in shape personally and as a group ... At first it was difficult because we had so few weeks, we’d get together one week and then assemble a concert, but we didn’t have that continuity in order to mesh and blend.” It’s also difficult to recruit new, young musicians with such a high cost of living here.


But the administrators and musicians are determined to move forward, with the possibility of someday taking the orchestra beyond Hawai‘i. Jang says more people are seeing the value of the symphony and realizing such high quality is not free. Newfound and returning community support, combined with a new board and administration that learned from the previous organization’s mistakes, a smaller season and staff, a diverse repertoire, and a focus on the musicians are what Cayetano says have made this comeback possible.


“The musicians have been extremely flexible and have made major sacrifices to allow this to happen because they believe in this orchestra and the purpose of it and the need for it in this community,” Parrish says. “I think we have great potential with this orchestra to do great things.”


What’s next this season

This month, the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra performs its fourth of six pops concerts and its eighth of 12 masterworks concerts for 2015–2016, its most robust season yet. On Feb. 26 (7:30 p.m.), world-famous Canadian Brass joins the orchestra for an entertaining evening of the unexpected. We especially like the quintet’s version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” dubbed “Brass Romance”—watch it on YouTube


On Feb. 27 (7:30 p.m.) and 28 (4 p.m.), violinist Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin will perform a program featuring Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor with the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra. James Feddeck conducts both the pops and the masterworks concerts at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.


“It’s important to diversify your repertoire,” says Vicky Cayetano, vice chair of HSO’s board of directors. “It’s great to have this high-quality, technically perfect music, but there has to be some entertainment value, too, and to reach out to the next generation. I think that’s what our symphony has really strived to do.”


For the rest of the season’s schedule, which continues through June, go to hisymphony.org.




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Honolulu Magazine November 2018
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